How to Host a BANG
Hosting a BANG is simple: Get a team, write some puzzles, test those puzzles (repeatedly), make lots of copies, and hand them out to teams who walk by at a specific location at a specific date and time. Tell teams if they get the answer right, or help them find their way. Determine who won, if anyone. Kick back with your favorite drink with the knowledge a job well done.
Want more in-depth advice? Read on!
"Any team that regularly plays in BANG should plan to produce one at some point."
The Bay Area Night Game is produced by volunteers only. If you don't put one on, who will? It is a tremendous responsibility, but don't be cowed by that. Your BANG can be as easy or hard as you want, as simple or complex as you want. If you decided to hand out six standard paper puzzles (word searches, crosswords, cryptograms, etc.), teams would still come and enjoy themselves. Set expectations ahead of time - "This BANG will consist mostly of standard puzzles of middling difficulty" for instance. Regardless, people will be grateful, happy, and have a good time.
In addition, it will help inspire other teams to run their own BANGs. To paraphrase Frank Herbert, "The BANGs must flow!" Help be part of that.
There are lots of ways to go about producing a BANG and most of these ideas should be taken as suggestions, not rules. Find your own way of planning that works for you. You will need a few things to get started, though:
1. Assemble Game Control!
Get a team of about 4-6 people together that can work together to put on a BANG. Start having regular meetings. Don't have a team? No problem! Post a message to the BANG mailing list and you will find that people are more than willing to support you.
2. Develop a theme!
Figure out what, if anything, you want to link your puzzles together. Use your favorite TV show or movie for inspiration. Create a unique story or use an novel idea. Be inspired by a major (or minor!) holiday. Some past themes include reality TV, culinary training, going back to school, St. Patrick's Day, zombies, and the number 21.
3. Location, Location, Location
You don't need to know where every puzzle is going to be located at the start. If you don't already have a specific location in mind, at least pick a Bay Area county (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma) and narrow it to a city or geographic location (park, campus, etc.).
4. When's it gonna be?
Pick a date to host your BANG. Or at least the month; you can firm up an actual day as you get closer. Have one team member be in charge of keeping the schedule up to date and keeping people on schedule. BANGs usually take 3-6 months to produce, with possibly time off for winter/holiday months. Any longer than that, and you may be in danger of losing focus and abandoning the project.
When it comes time to pick a specific date, you want to avoid holidays, big events, and perhaps-not-yet-announced other puzzle hunts. Make sure your planned date doesn't fall on Yom Kippur or the Superbowl, for example. Puzzle Hunt Calendar has a cabal of secret-keeping folks who know the planned dates of many announced and unannounced events; ask them about the date you're considering.
5. Length? Night or day?
Have an idea of how long you want your BANG to last. Three hours is probably the minimum; anything longer than eight hours and you risk exhausting your audience.
Do you want to run your BANG during the day or the night? Technically, the "N" in BANG stands for "night" and the game was originally held at night. However, night games are several orders more challenging and limiting than day games (if you are a member of the Mailing List, read this post on the drawbacks of night games). These challenges can be overcome, but many teams prefer to run their games during the day. The choice is yours.
Okay, you've got all the conceptualizing you need to get started. Now comes the hard part: Actual work. And usually the best way to work is to start at the end and work towards the beginning.
1. The Meta
A meta puzzle (AKA the meta) is not a required but most BANGs have them. It links all the previous puzzles together. Popular ways to do this is using previous puzzles' answers, solving mechanisms, and/or physical parts. Test and firm up the meta first so all other puzzle will feed into a relatively stable puzzle.
You don't have to be a puzzle expert to write a puzzle. It will take a little practice to write good ones, though. How to Write a BANG Puzzle may help guide you. A smooth-working fun puzzle is usually preferred to an elegant puzzle, though elegant puzzles are a pleasure in and of themselves. The number of puzzles usually is between 6 and 12, but this is not a hard and fast rule. BANG 16 had 14 puzzle and ran fine. BANG 22 had 19 puzzles and more than half the teams didn't finish.
Want to know what makes a good puzzle? Testing. Test each puzzle at each step of the way: Conception, proof-of-concept, first draft, each iteration, and then the dry-run. Dry-run is where the (hopefully) final copy is tested by a team in a practice run of the BANG.
4. Find Puzzle Installations
Get your team together and do some location scouting. Figure out where to have puzzles handed out. Safe places with access to bathrooms and/or food, protected from the elements with good places to sit is always preferable, but work with what you have. Ask businesses if you can use their building (many are happy to help) or if they can hand out puzzles. Since BANGs are on foot, walking time between puzzle sites probably should average 5-10 minutes. Get your route nailed down and then walk it yourself from start to finish.
A helpful tip: Find an ending location first. Many restaurants have a back room that you can rent out, or will let you use for free if you promise a certain number of people will actually order food. Community centers, lodges (Odd Fellows for example), churches, dance halls, etc., also may have a room to rent. Ending in a park or just wishing teams well after they finish the final puzzle is always an option, but many players like to sit down and talk about their experiences with food and drink.
5. Plan activities
Optional but fun step: Required physical activities to find the next puzzle installation or to actually receive the puzzle. Have teams kick a field goal, win a game of Nim, or beat another team at horseshoes. Nothing dangerous, but unique, fun, and not a puzzle.
These are some of the non-puzzley steps needed to make a BANG run. Many of them can be done at the same time as the Development.
1. Announcing your event
When you feel confident enough that your will be prepared to host your BANG on your selected date, there are three main places to make the announcement: This website, the BANG Mailing List, and the Puzzle Hunt Calendar. You are certainly welcome to make an early announcement that simply mentions that your team is planning on hosting a BANG and further details are coming, or simply send out a "Save the Date" announcement, but please read the Announcement Note first.
You will need a website to post information about your event, when and where it is, when it begins, how long it lasts, equipment to bring, the expected difficulty, and/or walking time. The simplest method is to create a new wiki page on this website. You could also create a static webpage on your own domain. Some teams have put extensive work into their websites, with pre-game puzzles, interactive story-lines, flashy graphics, and the like. It is up to you, your team's ability, and the time you have.
You'll want teams to sign-up in advance, so you know how many copies of everything to make. There are multiple ways to do this, the simplest being taking emails or using Google Forms. Once accepted, teams could then send you the money for participation in whatever way works best for you. It's generally not a good idea to take payments at the time of the event (see discussion). Many teams are now taking advantage of websites such as Eventbrite to handle sign-ups and payments together, though those websites often add a surcharge onto every ticket.
Many BANGs are scored. Some are not. Some use a hand-calculated scoring method and some design custom software. Many teams are now making use of ClueKeeper, an app for the iPhone and Android devices that takes a large amount of the burden of handling answers, hints, directions, story, event flow, scoring, etc. automatically. ClueKeeper charges for professional puzzle hunts ($10 per team as of this writing), but gives big discounts to amateur hunts. Tell the ClueKeeper folks what you're thinking, and they'll probably fit your budget.
Two main schools of thought on this: Custom vs. prepackaged hints.
If you are using prepacked hints, some drafts should be written during puzzle design. Now that the puzzles are in near-production mode, the hints should be finalized before the dry-run. Adjust based on the results of the dry-run. All too often, pre-packaged hints are either minimally or never tested. This can frustrate players if the hints are unclear, confusing, or leave out steps. Be sure to get feedback from previous playtesters or find new playtesters just to test the hints.
Custom hints - where a member of GC examines the work a team has done so far and gives them the best nudge to get them to the next step - are great, but can lead to tricky logistics. Teams need a way to talk to GC at each clue site. For the first few puzzles, before teams spread out, probably several teams will want hints at the same time. For these first few puzzles, you'll want to make easy for GC to hint quickly: easy to see what players have done so far, quick to explain the "Aha". Having volunteers who are have solved the puzzle themselves or at least know the steps is required.
In the past, puzzles have been hidden or left in the open for teams to find. There are obvious drawbacks to this. Having a volunteer or two at each puzzle installation to guard or hand out puzzles is now almost a requirement. In addition to your team members, you can ask friends, family and/or dry-run participants help out. If you're still short volunteers, send out a message to the Mailing List. Help will come.
7. Park Permits and Insurance
Although many BANGs have run under the radar and have skipped this step, it's probably best to get a permit if you are using a park for your starting location. Visit the website for the local parks department for more information. For some parks, it's as easy as filling out an online form; others may require more steps.
Rarely, a park may require sports insurance. If your event has activities or locations that might result in injuries, you may want to consider sports insurance anyway. If you are unsure, check with teams who have hosted hunts before or post a question to the Mailing List. Most BANGs, however, will not need it.
8. The Dry-Run
With everything designed and tested, there's one final step to make sure your BANG runs smoothly: A full test of everything in as close a state to the actual event as possible. This is your dress rehearsal, a last chance to find flaws. This usually happens 2-4 weeks before the actual event, to give time for final changes and the full production of puzzles.
There will almost always be teams that are unable to make your selected date or get wait-listed. Offer a few of them a chance to play. Two or three teams is usually enough, especially if you get a good mix of beginners and experienced players. Otherwise, post to the BANG Mailing List that you are in need of teams for the dry-run.
Traditionally, teams are not charged to participate in the dry-run; they are doing you a favor. It is perfectly acceptable to ask or even require participants to help hand out puzzles on the actual day of the event.
Make time afterwards to get as much feedback as you can from teams. They will help you smooth out any problems that may pop up, spot flaws that no one has seen before.
One final note: Test any changes to puzzles made after the dry-run!
9. Puzzle Production
After the dry-run and any fixes that need to be made, lock down the puzzles. No further changes. Start ordering printouts of all the puzzle parts you need. Don't forget printouts of rules/instructions, waivers, answer/score sheets, or any other non-puzzley materials needed for each team. Make several extra copies of everything, in case teams lose their materials. If puzzles require custom assembly, consider having a production party. Have as many team members and volunteers who can make it get together in once place and put everything together.
If you get this done early, you'll have time to rest and recouperate before running the big event. Some teams have been known to finish production a week before their BANG actually runs. It's a lot better than getting everything together the night before.
The big day has come! So many things to do. But the more you've prepared, the smoother and easier your BANG will go.
1. Set up registration
Get to your starting location early (an hour or so if possible) and either setup a table or claim one that's already there. As teams trickle in, check them off and give them a waiver to sign (something along the lines of this one). You can also provide a copy of the waiver online for teams to sign before arriving. Once signed, give them any non-puzzle materials (rules, answer sheet, code sheet, map, etc.), and, if appropriate, a sealed copy of the first puzzle. The main page should have a list of materials for teams to check against, in case they lose or are given incomplete starting packets.
If you've brought food, snacks, drinks, water bottles, etc. for teams (they always appreciate it, but remember to budget for it), set them out. Keeping teams fed and hydrated makes teams have a better experience, especially if they forgot to bring such supplies.
2. Send out volunteers and puzzles
When starting time approaches, it's probably good to start sending out volunteers to at least the next few puzzle locations with copies of the puzzles they will need to hand out. Obviously, volunteers don't need to be at puzzle station #8 right away, but teams can surprise you how fast they will solve your puzzles. Don't have them arrive at a location without GC already setup and ready to hand out the next clue.
Volunteers also appreciate it if you supply them with food, water, sunscreen, etc. as appropriate. If the volunteer is going to be stationed in a coffee shop, deli, restaurant, etc., provide them with spending money so they're actual customers, not just hanging out.
3. Start the Game!
When all teams that signed up are checked in (give some extra time for any straggler teams, but not too long), it's time to start! Have one team member get to a location visible to all players (tabletop, hilltop, shoulders of a friend, etc.) and introduce themselves and the event. Go over the rules briefly - yes, even though they should have a copy of them, many people don't read them. If you have an opening skit, it's time to let it start, and then announce that teams can open and/or start working on the first clue.
4. Make adjustments
Go around as teams are working on the first puzzle and make sure things are going okay. Sometimes printing errors pop up or unexpected little things make solving difficult. The best teams work around these problems; others will need help. If you can, check in on other puzzle sites as well.
5. Keep volunteers updated
As teams start to finish the first puzzle, text, call, or otherwise communicate with the next station that they're on their way. If you have an estimated average solving time for a puzzle, be aware that the best teams can solve it probably in about 1/3 of that time (or faster!) and the slowest teams can take over twice as long. Be generous with help and hints to any teams that look like they're being left behind. Let the next station know when the final team has left the first station. Keep this pattern going.
6. The finish line
At the ending time, have volunteers at every puzzle site announce that the game is over and head to the finish line. Have someone at the final location to check teams in. You may be having a closing ceremony, to finish any storylines, announce winner(s), say thank yous and, if it's part of your BANG, distribute prizes. Some teams that didn't finish may still want to work on puzzles after the closing ceremony. You may want to budget time to allow for this.
7. The next BANG
Also, be sure to announce who is on the hook for the next BANG. Traditionally, it is the winning team or the highest ranking team that hasn't hosted a BANG yet. Since this hasn't always encouraged teams to actually put on a BANG, consider alternative methods of selection, such as asking for a volunteer from the top ten finishing teams. Encourage them to host it with in a one year.
Thought you were done? Well, there's still a few things to take care of.
1. Post results to the website
The official website - whether on the wiki or hosted elsewhere - needs to be updated with information. This includes that the event was run, winning team(s) and/or complete rankings. If you've kept track of it, solve times for each team for each puzzle is always welcome - puzzlers love data. Software for tracking this information should make it easy.
Participants may write about their experiences and/or post pictures. Post links to these as you become aware of them.
2. Puzzles and Solutions
Adds links where possible to digital versions of the puzzle. Obviously, the puzzle involving spaghetti and silly putty may be hard to recreate in digital form, but do your best. Also, include a link to the solution or, if you're feeling especially generous, an answer submission/hint form. Easiest way is to actually take care of this before running your event, put them up on a private webpage, and then change it to public afterwards. The more permanent the website, the better: Some BANG puzzles have been lost when websites have gone down.
3. Update BANG pages
A few changes on the BANG page are necessary at this point. Move info about your BANG from the "Scheduled Events" section to the "Recently Completed" section. Optionally include who won. Go to the Past BANGs page and fill in the appropriate information. Add your team and the winning team names to the lists in the Hall of Fame. Add your event and location to the BANG page.
Consider getting together with your team afterwards and go over what went right and what could have been improved. Not only will teams in the future possibly ask you for advice, there's always the chance that you'll run another puzzle event. Besides, it's also a great excuse to...
You deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of being one of the few teams in history to put on a BANG. Everyone appreciates your hard work and for giving them a chance to enjoy one of their favorite activities and mingle with like-minded people. You've given them a unique experience that will (probably) never happen again. Have a drink. Eat a cake. Be proud. You've done good.